County Streamlining Patient Appointment System to Increase Revenue
June 17, 2003
One Bay Area county is about to launch a new system it hopes will provide some badly needed additional funding and improve access for patients who use its health centers.
Beginning July 1, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) will require every person who calls for an appointment at its 12 Health Centers to enter a patient identifying number - or be routed to a financial counselor for help in applying for health coverage. The county's unique Basic Health Care program will be made available to many of those who don't qualify for programs like Medi-Cal, Healthy Families and the Contra Costa Health Plan.
"We are very clear that we don't want to close health centers and reduce services. We want to maximize revenue so we can keep serving people who live in Contra Costa County," says William Walker, MD, Director of CCHS. His department has already cut $8.4 million from the 2003-04 budget to address the county's budget shortfall. Walker notes that county funds only pay for about 15 percent of the CCHS budget.
Pointing out that California is ranked near the bottom for money spent per capita on Medicaid recipients, Walker says the State of California has increased the number of times a year it requires Medi-Cal recipients to recertify. This adds barriers and reduces the number of people eligible for the insurance. Now the State is moving to further reduce the number of eligibles and require even more frequent recertification, all aimed at reducing funding to counties.
"Public health agencies like ours are facing a crisis. We have to look for ways to increase our revenue," Walker says. "Across the state, we're losing millions of dollars because people using our systems don't complete their applications for available insurance. We need that revenue and this new system will insure that we go after every dollar by helping people complete their applications."
To address the problem, Walker says CCHS will move its financial screening process up front. When patients call for medical appointments at any of CCHS' health centers, they'll be asked for a patient identifying number. Those callers with health coverage numbers, including the county's Health Plan members, will be given direct access to appointment scheduling staff. Those with no health coverage will be routed to a financial counselor to begin the application process on the phone. For eligible patients, once the financial counseling call is complete, the caller will be connected with an appointment scheduler. (More information is available on-line at http://cchealth.org)
Patients who do not currently have insurance are being encouraged to talk to a financial counselor now to begin the application process. Financial counselors can be reached by calling 1-800-771-4270.
Walker says that Contra Costa has a unique safety net in place that should help those who are not eligible for Medi-Cal or other insurance programs. The County's Basic Health Care provides access to health care including outpatient services, hospitalizations, prescriptions and needed tests for anyone who lives in Contra Costa County who has an income up to 300% of poverty. He concedes there will be some people who are not residents of Contra Costa or who earn above the 300% of poverty level who will not be eligible for Basic Health Care and will have to pay out of pocket up front or look elsewhere for services.
"We must concentrate our available resources on those who are our primary responsibility: those who live in Contra Costa County and are low income," Walker says.
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